Almost Half of Republicans Indulge the 'Stolen Election' Delusion


A party that cannot take responsibility for its losses cannot learn from them.

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Saucy Salad/Flickr

The newest survey from Public Policy Polling doesn't augur well for Republicans: "49% of GOP voters nationally say they think that ACORN stole the election for President Obama. We found that 52% of Republicans thought that ACORN stole the 2008 election for Obama, so this is a modest decline, but perhaps smaller than might have been expected given that ACORN doesn't exist anymore."

PPP chose an imperfect way of framing the question:

Do you think that Barack Obama legitimately won the Presidential election this year, or do you think that ACORN stole it for him?

Obama legitimately won

ACORN stole it for him

Not sure

What about people who thought that Obama stole the election through means other than ACORN? Answering "ACORN stole it for him" seems like the best fit for them among the options given. But even under that more charitable interpretation, nearly half of Republicans think Obama stole the election in some way or other -- this despite the fact that the results are in keeping with the findings of most reputable pollsters, that unlike in 2000 no state is in dispute, and that Obama won with so many electoral votes that you could flip Florida and he'd still be president.

The PPP survey also found that "some GOP voters are so unhappy with the outcome that they no longer care to be a part of the United States. 25% of Republicans say they would like their state to secede from the union compared to 56% who want to stay and 19% who aren't sure."

Do all these Republicans really think that ACORN stole the election? Do they really want their state to secede from the union? Given the depth of misinformation spread in some corners of the conservative media, I've no doubt that seemingly lunatic beliefs are genuinely held by some of the respondents. But my guess is that most respondents who gave these answers were less worried about the specific questions than signaling that, in general, they judge the outcome of Election 2012 to be illegitimate, perhaps in ways they themselves haven't articulated. 

Again, that most charitable interpretation is itself problematic. So long as Republicans insist, even in their own minds, that Obama's win was illegitimate, they won't be able to begin the business of figuring out what it is about the GOP, its platform, and its candidates that voters are rejecting. Fault can be found with the Romney campaign, the Republican establishment, the conservative movement, and right-wing media. To maintain that the election result was illegitimate isn't just to absolve those entities -- it is to refuse to even to look at them with a critical eye, even while chasing ghosts like ACORN as if that is the way to triumph in the next election. 

It isn't surprising that nearly half of Republicans are unwilling to place the blame for this year's loss on the candidates and political party that Americans rejected. But it doesn't augur well for their future.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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